Words Matter

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble.” – Yehuda Berg

Everyday human beings around the world communicate with one another using words, gestures, facial expressions, body language, art, music, etc. The words we choose as well as our tone of voice and our body language, play a part in how the other person receives the message and reacts. If we want the other person to be open to what we have to say, we must also be open to listening to them.

In our professions, we each have standard vocabulary that we use daily. These words can have a serious impact on those with whom we communicate. Because of this, it is important that we “keep up” with current terms as our understanding of people and situations change.

Let’s look at a few examples of terms that are used when referring to the topic of human trafficking. Often, when a person leaves the situation of being trafficked they are said to have been rescued. This term can aggrandize “the rescuer” and disempower “the rescued,” giving the impression that she or he was a helpless victim and had no role in exiting the situation.

The word “victim” is another misused and misunderstood term used to describe those who are or have been trafficked. In this article from JUSTUS, the author defines a victim as “a person who has been hurt or taken advantage of, a person harmed or injured as a result of a crime, or other event or action.” Alternatively, a survivor is defined as “a person who remains alive after an event in which others have died, literally or metaphorically. Survivors thrive! They are successful men and women who have overcome and accomplished things in their lives because of perseverance, determination, and forgiveness and their main focus in life is to create a new order through the businesses, nonprofits, ministries, and teaching they have established from their own painful past.” It’s no wonder many prefer to be identified as survivors.

How sensitive are we when we talk about groups or individuals?  Do we use labels such “the poor” when referring to a person who is living in poverty or “the homeless” when referring to a person who has no home? Or using “sex worker” or “prostitute” to refer to someone who is being commercially sexually exploited or prostituted? Do we use terms such as “they” or “those people” in our conversations or generalize when speaking about a certain group of people? In other words, do the words we choose build up or tear down? Do our words bring about unity and understanding or cause division and misunderstanding? Do our words promote respect and enhance the dignity of the person or people or degrade and disrespect?

In a recent public statement, Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stated, “We must all take responsibility to reject language that ridicules, condemns, or vilifies another person because of their race, religion, gender, age, culture or ethnic background,” the archbishop said. “Such discourse has no place on the lips of those who confess Christ or who claim to be civilized members of society.  Speech that vilifies or denigrates another is a violation of the humanity of the speaker and those to whom it is director-and deprives each of us of our God-given dignity.” The Archbishop closes his remarks with the statement, “The growing plague of offense and disrespect in speech and actions must end.”

Will you do your part to bring about a more respectful and unified world in the way you speak?

Trauma and Trafficking

“Human trafficking is one of the darkest and most revolting realities in the world today, ensnaring 41 million men and women, boys and girls.” – Father David Charters, second secretary of the Vatican’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations.

Those who are trafficked are daughters and sons, mothers, brothers, fathers and sisters. Most often, they are individuals who believed they were being given an opportunity to earn money to improve their future. Once in a trafficking situation, most come to believe that their hopes have been ruined. For many survivors, health problems hinder their ability to care for themselves and their family. For those most severely abused, those violated at the youngest ages, or those most vulnerable to mental health problems, the psychological burden may prevent them from moving beyond the trafficking experience and may even make them at risk of re-trafficking or other forms of abuse.

While prostitution is not itself a mental health issue, there is emotional and psychological damage involved which can lead to extreme feelings of instability. This trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Sex trafficking can be included in this situation of distress because the victims are subjected to physical and psychological harm as a way to control them. This trauma associated with trafficking and performing sexual acts under duress can be devastating.

The mental health needs of survivors of sex trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims. They often benefit from a multidisciplinary approach to address severe trauma, medical needs, immigration and legal issues, financial problems, safety concerns, housing, family re-unification, basic needs, and necessary inculturation in order to become active members of our societies.

Across the world, an increasing number of women, men, and children embark on perilous journeys in search of safety and dignity, and risk abuse and exploitation in countries of origin, transit and destination. As recognized in the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, some feel compelled to resort to smugglers, especially in the absence of regular migration pathways others become victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims and immigrants often suffer from similar types of trauma: assault, coercion, threats of harm to themselves and families, severe restriction of freedom, living in an environment of unpredictability and uncontrollability, multiple victimizations often beginning in childhood, shame and stigma associated with common trafficking experiences, abuse, low socio-economic status, no work history,  no access to documentation, and chronic coercion and control. Most have experienced unspeakable horror and persecution. Though many are exceptionally resilient, they still must cope with the emotional wounds and scars these experiences have left behind.

According to statistics released last year by the International Organization for Migration “around 75% of the people that were crossing the Mediterranean Sea,  said and declared to have experienced trafficking.”  Those migrating illegally are the most at risk, most particularly young women, both before and after they reach their destination.

For anyone who is distressed by the reality of human trafficking and wants to help, the first thing to do is to become informed. This topic is not covered well in the news, making it difficult to be well informed. To get accurate information visit the many websites of organizations who are involved with human trafficking. In addition to increasing ones knowledge, help support projects and organizations who are trying to help those affected by this crime.  Work at being responsible consumers by buying Fair Trade products, so as not to reward companies that are using “slave labor” in the production of their goods.

Prayer is also very important and a helpful way to support survivors, victims, anti-trafficking activities and even the conversion of the people responsible for trafficking.

“In human trafficking we can see, ‘the wounds of humanity today.’ Human trafficking is “a new crime against humanity as it’s a new form of slavery” that prevents people from developing authentic relationships and enjoying civil rights. The factors that make individuals vulnerable are various and include poverty, political oppression, family dysfunction, war, climate changes that force people to migrate and make them far more vulnerable to trafficking.”

Human Body as Currency

Lucie Amrhein’s mother was 22 years old when she responded to a “help wanted” ad for a nanny and left her home in Belgium to serve a family in the United States. Unaware of the need for a visa upon departure, she realized after arrival in her new country that she didn’t have legal status. The couple exploited the situation. They forced her to work long days and to remain on call 24/7. They took payment for her rent and food from her inadequate wages and psychologically abused her. Fortunately, she escaped the situation with help.

Lucie became passionate about human rights and helping people who were exploited. Putting together lessons from her mother and studies at American University, Lucie coined the phrase, “human body as currency.”

While the value of the human body can be viewed in numerous ways (the worth of its chemicals, how beautiful it is perceived to be, how much energy it can expend, etc.) the dark side of the human body as currency—a commodity that can be traded or exploited for someone else’s gain of money, goods, services or anything else of value—includes forms of human trafficking. For example:

  • A husband selling a wife for sex to support his drug habit.
  • An unscrupulous business owner trading substandard wages, food, and a place to live for a family struggling to survive loss after natural disaster or war, then keeping the next generation enslaved in debt bondage because of interest schemes that can never be paid back.
  • A broker arranging the harvest of a kidney from a poverty-stricken parent who cannot read a contract in order to made a handsome profit from a wealthy organ recipient engaging in medical tourism.

Lucie says she sees a need for a large-scale societal shift in attitudes about consent as one of many smaller solutions that will help end modern slavery/human trafficking. Throughout history, people have used and taken advantage of individuals because of their race, identity, vulnerabilities and different abilities, she continued, citing the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, early pornography, and recent labor trafficking cases and illegal organ trade. “Without true and informed consent, it’s exploitation,” Lucie asserted.

Please help stop the demand that fosters exploitation. Talk about full, true and informed consent for sex, business deals, medical procedures and other ways that use the human body for its value. Ask yourself: how do I view and use the human body as currency?

Written by Carol Hart Metzker.

Update from the Border & Beyond

The problems at the border now go far beyond the family separations of last summer. Children who are separated from their families are supposed to be protected under the Flores Agreement that “requires that children be speedily moved from Department of Homeland Security custody to the care of a purportedly more suitable agency,” and to be “housed in safe and sanitary conditions.”

That is not happening. Rather, the children are being held for long periods of time, without their basic human needs being met, in deplorable conditions. Necessities such as adequate food, water, bathroom and shower facilities, basic hygiene supplies, etc. are not available. Children are sleeping on concrete floors–if they have enough room to lie down–in cage-like structures.

Additionally, there is overcrowding at these shelters due in part to a surge in migration at the border including 144,000 migrants last month, a 13-year high. At least a dozen children have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this year, more than any year since 2014. And it’s not just the U.S. side that is experiencing issues. These days, Mexican border cities are overcrowded as migrants wait for an immigration lawyer.

“I have worked with asylum seekers for 10 years,” says one immigration lawyer. “I have never seen people as scared, who are just viscerally terrified while they’re begging me, ‘Please don’t let me get sent back.'”

How can we close our eyes and ears to the cries of these people? Last week, people of faith participated in religious events on the border–the border that has recently witnessed lots of outrage from all over the country and the world after photos of a father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande trying to seek asylum in the U.S. were released.

Similar problems are happening throughout the world! Last Wednesday, the world was shocked by the acts of violence caused by air attacks that struck a detention center for migrants in Libya. Pope Francis urges us not to tolerate these acts of violence. He called Christians to, “follow the spirit of the beatitudes by comforting the poor and the oppressed, especially the migrants and refugees who are rejected, exploited, and left to die. They are persons; these are not mere social or migrant issues. This is not just about migrants, in the two-fold sense that migrants are, first, human persons and that they are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society.”

Click here to find out how you can help.

Celebrating Triumph Over Injustice

IMG_7048For 853 years, the town of Acquapendente, Italy has celebrated hope and victory over oppression. In 1166, two peasants witnessed the blooming of a near-dead cherry tree and took it as a sign of hope that their town could gain freedom from their oppressor. Every year since the revolt, villagers have held a festival and created pugnaloni—huge, stunning mosaics of flower petals that tell the story of triumph over bondage and injustice past and present.

Some of this year’s mosaics depict current themes of exploitation of migrants, human trafficking and child abuse. They also invite and inspire viewers to hold out hope while working toward justice.

Written by Carol Metzker

Teens Lured into Human Trafficking Online

Every day in my email I read about teens who are lured into relationships with predators posing as teens in chatrooms. Sometimes the teens are talking into sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves to the “teen friend” who promises that the picture is just for him/her.

Of course, that is rarely, if ever, the case. The pictures are received and then shared with other predators on the internet, often on the “dark web.” The teen is then blackmailed into sending more and more pictures as the predator threatens to forward pictures to the teen’s parents and friends if the teen doesn’t comply. The teen is caught in a no-win situation, at times ending in suicide as the teen sees no other alternative. And once a picture is on the web, even if deleted, it is there forever!

In the case above, the teen’s relationship is through the computer chat room but does not get to the next level of meeting the “teen friend” at the mall, park, restaurant, etc. As we know, teens are very vulnerable and easily influenced by others. Some of these online relationships do get to the next level and the teen secretly meets the person on the other end of the line. When this happens, the teen is in danger of being taken and forced into trafficking or groomed to agree to participate “willingly.” This is a very dangerous situation for these teens.

As parents, teachers, relatives, and friends, how can we protect our vulnerable youth from falling into this trap? The first thing we must do is to educate ourselves on how to talk with our youth in an intelligent, clear, and nonjudgmental way. Then, we must take the time to talk with them and listen to them on a regular basis. It is important for parents and schools to use filtering and monitoring software and tools on all devices to which children and teens have access. There are numerous software programs (like this one) out there to help adults keep children safe.

Please do your part and educate others on how they can protect our precious youth from predators.

Click here or click here for some internet safety tips.

Masterpieces of Broken Pieces

A few years ago, residents, volunteers and I painted rocks to surround a garden at Dawn’s Place, a home for survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. A resident painted, “We are all masterpieces of broken pieces.”

It inspired the name and concept behind an art project for survivors from Dawn’s Place, The Salvation Army’s New Day to Stop Trafficking Program and other programs. Survivors and their allies create glittering mosaic candleholders and beautiful ornaments from broken jewelry, unwanted plates and discarded books.

By participating in the “Masterpieces” project, local survivors learn and practice work skills, make decisions, express ideas and think creatively. Survivors earn gift cards to buy what they choose; community members’ purchases of “masterpieces” enable survivors to earn more gift cards. One woman found that the relaxation and focus the activity provides can help her fight insomnia and PTSD episodes. Others experienced a boost in self-esteem when Penn State’s Henry Art Gallery included their “masterpieces” in an exhibit.

The pieces displayed at the “Masterpieces of Broken Pieces: A Labyrinth of Light and Hope”—a glittering, meditative walk among the survivor artwork and candlelight during January’s National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month—help labyrinth participants connect with survivors’ success stories and their deeper sense of compassion.

The “Masterpieces of Broken Pieces” project reminds us all that although we carry scars from life’s difficulties and we are imperfect, we are all the more valuable, beautiful and unique for having survived.

Written by Carol Metzker